“Leviathan” by Scott Waldyn

Categories: ISSUE 02: Billie

The tin can scuttled down the cracked and weather-worn stretch of desolate road until it found a sizable pothole to bounce into. A stiff breeze had rolled through the dead plains, sighing a sorrowful breath across a region that hadn’t known life in many years. The puttering can was a harmonious ringing of life in the stillness, one of several sounds that throttled a spark of movement on a landscape riddled with Rigor Mortis.

A pair of boots scraped across the gravel near the gas station’s entrance. A figure, shrouded in drab clothing that matched the countryside, stepped through the shattered doorway, having crawled under the collapsed roof pieces to get out.

A beard dangled from his hooded face – thick and dark and unkempt. Its follicles hung untrimmed and curving with the pattern of an untamed thorny bush. Slowly, the man lifted his debris-splattered head back and sucked in deeply, inhaling the dust-saturated air. He coughed, spittle dribbling down his chin into the thick forestry.

Johnny was an analog – an archaic remnant of a dead era. Born an analog, he knew nothing better, spending most of his youth cramped in a multi-family fallout shelter. At least, “analog” was the term his mother always used. Dad preferred “right-brain thinker.”

The left-brain thinkers wanted to stomp us out, Dad used to say over and over again to whittle away the hours of nothingness at night. We challenged them and their controlling structures, their logic and their coldness, their facts with their emotionless demeanors. We went underground when they started implanting us. First they tracked the pets. Then the kids. And then they finally came for the rest, citing all sorts of security nonsense.

But Dad was dead now – taken by old age. Mom too.

When the elders started dying, only those with mates stayed within the confines of those reinforced walls. One-by-one, everyone else slipped out when they could, tired of having to watch longingly from afar as two others got to taste the fruits of biological urges. It would get so bad some nights, the resounding moans of pleasure echoing down the metal corridors became nightmarish taunts for the loners.

Air stampeded him as he stood there, gazing up at the orange sky. Unused to the breeze, Johnny nearly felt himself topple backward, throwing out his arms to maintain a sense of balance.

Wind. Wind is what Mom and Dad used to call it, but they never told him how crisp and refreshing it would feel, even if it was caked with dirt particles.

Something in the distance thundered against the Earth. Johnny’s skinny legs trembled as a quake shook him about like a can of soda in the clutches of a child.

The first time any kid gets a can of soda, his instinct is to shake it. Even when the parents scold him and berate him, the urge overwhelms obedience, and what was considered a rare birthday present becomes a sloppy mess all over the kitchen hall. All the older kids run wild, violating wet counters and floors with their frenzied tongues. The sweetness. It tastes so good, and it was stocked in such short supply. It drives people crazy for those few moments. For a moment, there are no rules. Pure anarchy.

The ground thundered again, this time slightly louder. Johnny squinted his goggled eyes through the free-floating dust. Too heavy. Only a distant shadow loomed through the filtering sunlight. Thick and dark – more like a blob of some sort in the haze.

The gritty air began to irritate him. It chalked his tongue, and morsels wedged between his teeth. He could feel them. Taste them. His tongue lashed about like a bull in those old videos Dad had from a trip to Spain once upon a time, fighting an uphill battle to dislodge the invaders.

Another groaning thunder – another quake.

Dad described a world of tall skyscrapers and flashing lights. It was a world always illuminated under a web of perpetual darkness, contained from Nature so as to perpetuate the atmospheres and illusions of the advertisers. At least, that’s what he called them – the group of people who ruined everything. People did nothing but stimulate themselves then, and their curse was they could do nothing else. Addicts, Dad would call them. They let fly liberty and choice for the next fix.

Yet, all Johnny could see was arid desert land. A dead plain that hadn’t seen water in several moons. Old poles still jutted from the ground, wires dangling from them, but there were no skyscrapers – no monuments and testaments to man’s architectural ingenuity. Was that old world finally dead?

This next quake bucked Johnny from his toes. Scraping his hands on the soil, blood began to drip onto the ground. It was the first essence of life it’d seen in years. Johnny knew it now, as he heard a whisper carry through the wind – a sigh of relief seemingly from Mother Earth herself. So soft. So fragile.

This next earth-shattering sound was loudest of all, forcing him to cast his gaze skyward again. That distant blob no longer scurried the edge of his vision. Now, it trudged ever closer to him, a behemoth of tremendous height, as big as the skyscrapers he saw in old movies.

The beast walked on two legs with two thick arms flowing alongside. It had the build of a gorilla but the glimmering sheen of a silver fish in a clear pond. In between what looked like sparkling scales in the distance were black tendrils of some sort, firing zigzagging colors of vibrant purples and blues. The lights pulsated and danced up and down the creature’s form like hundreds of little guard dogs running up and back chasing the unseen.

As the monstrosity lurched forward, each step emanating a greater quake, Johnny could see that those silver scales around the tendrils weren’t so silver. They were a pasty white, wriggling in their own, independent motions but still shining nonetheless.

Johnny peered hard, the strain of his squinting throbbing in his skull. What were those blobs flopping about the beast’s form as it marched toward him?

Dad always used to talk about an inevitable war on the surface above, one waged between the great left-brain tribes through machines the people knew not existed. Carried across the winds and the air waves, these devices could be as small or as large as the builders wanted, killing a target regardless of size or scope. But the big ones had a more terrifying impact. They would be used to startle other tribes into submission, rolling thunderous trembles of chaos into the hearts of dissidents. Was this one of them?

Gloved fingers held himself just above the ground as another quake threatened to toss Johnny again. This mammoth creation was headed directly his way, though no eyes could be seen on the form, as the dust was thickest near its head, blocking it from any view.

Music began to carry over the wind as the behemoth furthered itself, blending with the booming resonations underfoot. Voices. Human voices singing, like an angelic choir humming the same three notes in repetition. Male and female, there seemed to be a decent-size of both. Oooooooh. Auuuuugh. Ahhhhh. All at once, voices switching between notes to perpetuate the perfect harmony.

Johnny squinted again at the writhing scales between the pulsating tendrils. He could make them out this time but just barely. Coldness overwhelmed his fingertips and toes as his innards tightened around themselves. Mouth agape in awe-struck horror, the dust seized opportunity to desiccate his tongue, but he was too terrified to pay it any mind.

Bodies. Those scales were segments of bodies strung together from those fibrous tendrils, the electrical colorations dancing between their heads and the behemoth. All shapes and all sizes, the bodies writhed and wriggled about, their faces showing the same complacent, closed-eyed contentedness as their mouths crooned forth a digital song. No hair adorned their bodies. Rather, the black cords jutted out of their skulls and arms, like tubes connecting an alternating current between the machine and them.

Another stiff breeze blew past Johnny and ruffled his dark hair. Wind. They called it wind. Run like the wind if you get into trouble, Mom and Dad used to say. Run like the wind.

Story by Scott Waldyn
Background photo by Misti Rainwater-Lites
Foreground photo by Thomas PitreSneakers Store | Men’s shoes